Techdirt's think tank, the Copia Institute, is working with the Trust & Safety Professional Association and its sister organization, the Trust & Safety Foundation, to produce an ongoing series of case studies about content moderation decisions. These case studies are presented in a neutral fashion, not aiming to criticize or applaud any particular decision, but to highlight the many different challenges that content moderators face and the tradeoffs they result in. Find more case studies here on Techdirt and on the TSF website.

Content Moderation Case Study: SoundCloud Combats Piracy By Giving Universal Music The Power To Remove Uploads (2014)

from the trusted-removers? dept

Summary: Any site that relies on uploaded content has to be wary of hosting pirated content. In most cases, allegedly infringing content is removed at the request of rights holders following the normal DMCA takedown process. A DMCA notice is issued and the site responds by removing the content and -- in some cases -- allowing the uploader to challenge the takedown.

SoundCloud has positioned itself as a host of user-created audio content, relying on content creators to upload original works. But, like any content hosting site, it often found itself hosting infringing content not created by the uploader.

Realizing the potential for SoundCloud to be overrun with infringing content, the platform became far more proactive as it gained users and funding.

Rather than allow the normal DMCA process to work, SoundCloud allowed one major label to set the terms of engagement. This partnership resulted in Universal being able to unilaterally remove content it believed was infringing without any input from SoundCloud or use of the normal DMCA process.

One user reported his account was closed due to alleged infringement contained in his uploaded radio shows. When he attempted to dispute the removals and the threatened shuttering of his account, he was informed by the platform it was completely out of SoundCloud's hands.

Your uploads were removed directly by Universal. This means that SoundCloud had no control over it, and they don't tell us which part of your upload was infringing.

The control of removing content is completely with Universal. This means I can't tell you why they removed your uploads and not others, and you would really need to ask them that question.

Unfortunately, there was no clear appeal process for disputing the takedown, leaving the user without his account or his uploads. A little less than 18 months later, SoundCloud finalized a licensing deal with Universal Music, shortly before the site's subscription service debuted.

Decisions to be made by SoundCloud:

  • Does allowing labels to perform their own takedowns bypass protections SoundCloud should be granting to their users?
  • Are resulting licensing deals more profitable than subscription fees collected from users?
  • Is the risk of litigation too high to allow for a more equitable takedown system?
Questions and policy implications to consider:
  • Will alienating/shedding users via skewed takedown processes result in decreased funding in the future?
  • Do policies like this make SoundCloud an extension of major labels, rather than a platform that caters to independent creators?
Resolution: SoundCloud continues to allow labels like Universal to perform content removals without utilizing the DMCA process or engaging with the platform directly. Users are still on their own when it comes to content declared infringing by labels. This appears to flow directly from SoundCloud's long-running efforts to secure licensing agreements with major labels. And that appears to flow directly from multiple threats of copyright litigation from some of the same labels SoundCloud is now partnered with.

Originally posted to the Trust & Safety Foundation website.

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Filed Under: copyright, moderation, trusted users
Companies: soundcloud, universal music


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 8 Jan 2021 @ 4:13pm

    Nice of them to make their priorities clear I guess

    Do policies like this make SoundCloud an extension of major labels, rather than a platform that caters to independent creators?

    There's a rhetorical question if there ever was one... when the users can have their content removed by a major label and no explanation or ability to challenge the removal is provided because the label is the one making the decision then yes, the platform is little more than an extension of the label, run and controlled by them, such that independent creators would be foolish to use it.

    By allowing labels direct control over what content is and is not allowed on the platform SoundCloud has made it pretty clear that they value the relationship with the labels more than they value their users, and anyone who uses the platform should definitely keep that thought front and center.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Jan 2021 @ 4:34pm

      Re: Nice of them to make their priorities clear I guess

      It sounds like SoundCloud wants to avoid costly litigation, the likes of which was initiated by Viacom over videos which allegedly they themselves uploaded. But, it turned out the founders of YouTube (who they bought the site from) weren't too clean either.

      With incidents like that, MegaUpload, Veoh, and other disasters involving copyright, I can't say I am surprised that SoundCloud is doing everything they can to avoid being nailed for copyright. It is disappointing, but not surprising.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Jan 2021 @ 5:25pm

        Re: Re: Nice of them to make their priorities clear I guess

        To clarify, YouTube had problems with Viacom, not SoundCloud. But, legal battles like that scare companies, especially with how it came out of the blue without any real justification.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jan 2021 @ 4:32pm

    Saw this coming years ago. Never got a SoundCloud account because of it. Continued to not get a SoundCloud account because of it.

    Maybe I should add them to the same blackhole list I reserve for Facebook properties so that I can't accidentally stumble across their content.

    Question: I seem to recall, when browsing from someone else's browser, that TechDirt had a SoundCloud bar at the top. Because I block third party assets, I can't see it myself, but is this true? Is TechDirt supporting SoundCloud?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Rico R. (profile), 8 Jan 2021 @ 4:42pm

      Re:

      Yes, SoundCloud is up on the top of the home page. Their podcast is hosted through SoundCloud. Whether or not they support them outside of paying for more storage space is beyond me.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 8 Jan 2021 @ 11:28pm

      Re:

      "Saw this coming years ago"

      Erm, as indicated by the headline, the article is referring to something that happened in 2014?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 8 Jan 2021 @ 7:40pm

    Stop "copuright theft" by giving away the keys to actual thieves.

    Sounds legit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jan 2021 @ 9:17pm

    Do we want these companies controlling all discussion on the inter - oh wait wrong article.

    Yeah, ban those people with your powers of defeating infringement you can claim willy-nilly without recourse!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jan 2021 @ 5:04am

    It's simple you cannot run a music online service without cooperating with the major music labels,
    If you allow user uploads , unless you restrict yourself to allowing only music by a limited amount of users link indie bands
    This means there will a limited amount of services or startups
    In this area due to the cost of dealingwith major labels.
    Music labels would be happy to allow more streaming services
    as they are basically getting paid over and over for the same content at no cost to them

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jan 2021 @ 9:43am

    Soundcloud is a good place to find podcast,s ,
    its a good place for artists who are starting off to host music free ,
    before they have to deal with old legacy corporations .
    soundcloud have a choice, make a deal with music label,s ,
    or make expensive filters to find music which maybe owned by sony,warner music ,etc
    We have seen with twitch been hit with 1000,s of dmca notice,s what happens with services who host music or videos, with music in the bankground they will be likely be the target of large music corporations .
    if your music is good it may find an audience on soundcloud.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Jan 2021 @ 3:45am

    Would their user agreement not reference this i.e. that if you upload to Soundcloud this might happen inadvertently to your recordings?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    GHB (profile), 11 Jan 2021 @ 1:25pm

    So twitch wasn’t the first one to join the dark side

    Like I said, the copyright industry is trying to overstep copyright, this is more explicit that they’re trying to do so via an agreement. SoundCloud, Twitch, and potentially others essentially invited out-of-control takedown notices on their platform.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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